Planning rejects CUP application on Alamo; owners head for appeal before City Council

Friday, January 11, 2013

Tuesday's meeting of the Planning Commission/Board of Zoning Adjustment was mostly dominated by a public hearing and long discussion over an application for a Conditional Use Permit.

In this case the application for the CUP was by Planning Commissioner Melissa Green and husband Joe, for a weekly lodging property at 10 Alamo Street, which is near Emporia Street on the west side of town.

The property is already being rented out by the week by the Greenes. As City Council determined last year following contentious meetings over what constituted a weekly rental and where it could be done, weekly rentals as opposed to tourist lodgings can be operated in R-2, or contemporary residential zoning areas. There are no weekly rentals in R-1, or Victorian residential zones, without a CUP.

Greene, who recused herself from voting on the matter because of conflict of interest, said she felt as a courtesy to neighbors she should have the CUP. While the current situation is in compliance with the law, she said, operating with a CUP would clarify the situation for everyone.

Many neighbors came forward to show their support.

"I have been aware of the properties the Greenes own and manage," said David Mitchell of 5 Summit St. "They work hard with guests and take good care of those properties. Internet comments about them are all good. 10 Alamo is in R-2, which does not have a moratorium on short term lodging. I'd be shocked if anybody has a complaint. I personally would highly recommend her for the CUP."

Though most neighbors who spoke were strong advocates for the application, not all felt the same. David Anderson of 21 Emporia Street came to the mike to express his concern over the encroachment of new weekly rentals into the neighborhood.

"I just want to state that we have a unique little town here, if you didn't notice," Anderson said, "and a lot of commerce here because of tourism. If you get out and drive around residential neighborhoods, very few don't have some kind of commerce going on inside them. Fortunately in our neighborhood we don't have that, and I would like to see us keep it as a residential neighborhood. I have nothing against this kind of commerce as such -- I've lived here close to 50 years, and bed and breakfasts and nightly rentals really spruced up our town from the mid- to late-Sixties. I have no problem with monthly rentals because that's someone you recognize coming and going on a daily basis. Not that our visitors aren't good people. But you don't recognize them as you do neighbors. Our children grew up riding their bikes in that neighborhood."

The commission read into the record a handful of letters, one of which was against the application due to reasons of "peace, quiet and safety." It went on to lambast Planning for "doing nothing about the paving of Anderson Street" several years ago.

Commissioner Jim Morris pointed out Planning had nothing to do with paving Anderson Street.

Commissioner Ken Rundel reported the most negative feedback on the application. "To me it comes down to 'would I want this in my neighborhood?'" he said. "Should we force it on them? I'd like to table this until we hear from more people in the neighborhood. Right now I don't know. The sentiment in the neighborhood seems clearly split."

Following a failed motion to table the issue till the next meeting, Morris defended the public hearing process. "We are bound by law to make a decision to relieve a property owner whether we're uncomfortable or not," he said. "Law provides for people to speak out by public notice. That is when they have their chance. If they don't do it by then, they had their shot. I don't think we should inconvenience an applicant when they have done what the law requires and we can vote yes or no. The public has had its chance to step forward. So I don't like to see us table things for that reason. Additionally, I don't see any negative for the neighborhood. Show me where it'll increase traffic. Probably there will be less of an impact by overnight rather than longer renters, because they don't stay long enough to put rubbish out, or have multiple cars, etc."

Planning Chairwoman Beverly Blankenship paused to remind the other commissioners of the parameters they are to look at when considering a CUP application. "On page 440 in our code, this is what it tells us we are to consider," she said. "Is it contrary to the master plan? Or the land use pattern in neighborhood? Population density? Will change adversely affect property values or living conditions? Increase traffic excessively? Cause drainage problems? Seriously reduce light and air? A deterrent to improvement of adjacent properties? Harm to any historic aesthetic value of the house? Parking? Utilities, refuse, screening buffering, environmental impact, temporal nature and opinions of adjacent property owners. Those are all on the list. That's why you're required to notify everyone within 200 feet of the property what's being asked for."

Rundel demurred, saying he would like more time to get more public input, and that he felt neighbors beyond 200 feet should have a say in the process as well.

Greene, who did not vote in the proceedings, continued to argue she had met all the requirements for applying for a CUP and felt it should be granted.

"I just want to remind you all," Blankenship said, "that four votes are necessary to pass a CUP application, so if any of you here votes against it, the motion will fail."

Rundel voted no. The motion failed.

Greene said she would continue with the next step, appealing to City Council. "My feelihng is that I'm in no way breaking the laws by running a weekly rental, as per city codes," she said. "I applied for the CUP as a courtesy so my neighbors could have a say in the process."

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